The purpose of this five-issue Kang the Conqueror series may be nothing more ambitious than streamlining the origin of a complicated character who is of sudden interest to moviegoers and Marvel’s corporate overlords. In that narrow sense, the series is already a success.
But as a work of art and an addition to the wider canon of Kang, it is truly breathtaking. Writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing establish an emotional core to Kang that has always been there, but rarely as foregrounded as it is here. Last issue introduced young Nathaniel and sent him on a quest to defy his cruel, hardened older self.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Kang the Conqueror #2!
This issue opens with Nathaniel arriving in Egypt to find a reality overrun by one of his many incarnations, Rama-Tut. What appears to be a tour of the older Kang’s greatest hits takes a detour when Nathaniel is introduced to a woman named Ravonna.
Any Marvel diehard (or recent Loki watcher) knows this name. She is Kang’s enduring love interest, princess of the only world he had not yet conquered. (Don’t worry, he conquered it soon enough.) Attempting to even make sense of Kang and Ravonna’s relationship across continuity could make one’s eyes glaze over, so Kelly and Lanzing don’t really try.
They bring her into the story through a new guise — this time, she is her reality’s Moon Knight. They may as well be meeting for the first time because, in a sense, they are. “In the when from which you fell, is this place remembered?” Ravonna asks him at one point. (All the dialogue is this grand and elliptical. It really shouldn’t work, but does.)
Their tender affection for one another grows quickly and does not quite feel earned, but the weight of history imbues their interactions with immense pathos.
If this were another comic, I might be a harsher judge of how quickly the pair goes from “hello” to in love, but the pull of destiny is central to this book. These characters know they’re supposed to fall in love, so they do. Does that make their feelings less genuine? What does it say about Kang, who knows his future and past across multiple realities, but is rewriting them constantly?
If you cannot tell already, this is a weird book that crosses time and space and tackles dense areas of continuity. But in a different sense, it could not be any more simple.
Kelly and Lanzing start with Kang at his most impressionable age and slowly guide him through the moments that test what kind of person he will eventually become. He cannot experience things as they are. Everything he experiences is colored by the advice older Kang has given him. “Never love,” he instructs him.
Some things proceed as they always did. Rama-Tut’s reign is ended by the Fantastic Four, as it was in that Jack Kirby-drawn issue from 1963. But Ravonna’s mysterious role and young Nathaniel’s knowledge of the future inspires him to reject his destiny.
Across two issues, this comic had everything you could want from a Kang story: adventure, time travel shenanigans, star-crossed romance. Now its central character has a sense of agency, of destiny being denied. That certainly sets up for a fascinating rest of the series.
Some other, scattered thoughts:
- Carlos Magno’s artwork was stunted a bit this issue by the Egyptian setting, which lent itself to some repetitive framing and redundant visuals. (All of Rama-Tut’s minions wear the same outfit.) But there are a few spreads that Magno absolutely nails. A sequence with Nathaniel and Ravonna that culminates in Rama Tut’s ship tracking them down is wonderfully paced with descending, thin panels. A gray background, representing Rama-Tut’s intrusive light, bleeds into the gutter, which accentuates the horror of the scene.
- It looks like Kang will be a major villain across Marvel’s line in 2022. Last week, the publisher announced a one-shot Timeless that features Kang going “to war with time itself, battling through days of tomorrow as he struggles to prevent the end of what is to come.”
- In a fun bit of (almost certainly) unintentional cross-company synergy, Lanzing and Kelly have a Batman Beyond story in this week’s issue of Batman: Urban Legends. The duo really are carving out a niche for fun, cross-time comics.
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